As a web developer specializing in writing WordPress code, a question I’m often asked is, “Should I purchase and use a premade theme for my website or should I hire a designer and developer to have a custom theme created?” Unfortunately the answer isn’t always quite so simple.
In a previous post, I compared a website to a car, with regard to getting the most out of an online vehicle to deliver content. In the case of WordPress themes, I’ll use another analogy: deciding on what is needed from a website theme is like choosing to buy, renovate or build a house.
Buying a home / Buying a theme:
When the time comes to spend money on a home, there are two options: buy or build. The first steps are knowing what the budget is and what the owner’s “must have’s” are. When deciding on the look and behavior of a website, that translates into knowing the project’s budget and functionality needs, and how those must be met by the marriage of design and code.
When shopping for a home, there are many factors to consider. Does the house have adequate bedrooms for the total number of family members? If you like to cook, is the kitchen setup what it should be? If there are multiple vehicles, is there a large garage? The same is true for deciding on a WordPress theme; there are countless factors to consider. First, how will a website be used? Will photography be showcased in a portfolio setting? Is the website for a restaurant that wants to put its menu front and center? Or is the website owned by a company that has several areas of focus? In many cases, specifically when it comes to personal website designs, a premade theme can get the job done.
In a best-case scenario, a home buyer finds a house that fits the bill with no changes. Everything is exactly what it should be. WordPress themes are similar: often, a blogger or an artist can find a theme that allows publishing the work in the perfect manner at an incredibly affordable price.
Buying to renovate / Buying a theme and editing code via a child theme:
Sometimes when searching for a home, a great house is found, but some elements aren’t just right. If the budget allows, some remodeling is done. Maybe a wall is knocked out to combine two rooms into a larger space, or extra windows are added to let in more light. In the website world in regard to off-the-shelf themes, changing requirements of design and behavior can be met by using a child theme. A child theme is a theme that inherits the functionality and styling of the parent theme.
Why use a child theme? There are two reasons:
- Maybe you find a theme you like, but the colors and fonts don’t match your brand. A child theme can be adjusted to match the colors of your brand, as well as the fonts on your business collateral, so there’s a cohesive look across print and web properties.
- Child themes are useful because if the code is written directly into the parent theme updates by the theme’s author will lose your modifications. Using a child theme ensures any edits to the code will be preserved.
Custom-building a house / Coding a custom theme:
Sometimes a homebuyer can’t find a workable property due to specific wants and/or needs, but has a generous budget. In these cases, individuals have their dream homes built from the ground up. In website development, this is known as custom theming. In the same way architects translate sketches into blueprints, wireframes evolve into design in the website planning and development process. Once the design is done, custom coding of the theme is able to begin.
Home-oriented television and online programs are full of these dream homes — basketball court-bowling alley combinations, three-story closets and more. In website terms, maybe a business sells shoes and its website needs to allow users to sort shoes by gender, style, color and price. Additionally, it will feature blogs targeting male and female shoppers individually. The likelihood of purchasing a theme that provides this specific functionality is highly unlikely.
Knowing what to choose all comes down to ascertaining early on what the needs are; draw up a list of what the site must do and offer, and what you would like as new or additional features beyond what you have now. With that in hand, you can sit down with a developer and buy, build or combine the best online solution for your business.